I am a dedicated customer of Southwest Airlines. I will choose to fly this airline even if it is slightly more expensive than alternative organizations. I constantly recommend Southwest to my friends and family when they ask for recommendations on what airline they should fly.
While it’s true that many times Southwest is the cheapest option for me, based on where I am flying, I don’t choose Southwest due to the price; I choose to fly this airline because of the employees. Southwest is widely known for great customer service, and in all my experience, the airline has consistently confirmed this image.
The overall culture of Southwest Airlines provides a great illustration of what engagement should look like. Team members go above and beyond their job duties to provide the best possible experience for customers. In an airport, this dedication to customer support is especially important because people who are traveling can be stressed and at times are extremely difficult to handle. Engaged employees are the employees who recognize, while it may require a little more work, providing good customer service will help the overall organization. As such, they are willing to put forth the effort to provide a better experience.
Just as engaged employees are committed to the organization, the organization must be committed to employees as well. As part of Southwest’s mission, publicized online, leadership at the airline promises to provide employees with a stable work environment, opportunities to express creativity, career development options, and “the same level of concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer.” If you’ve read other blog posts on our site, you know these initiatives are all factors that help create a culture of engagement.
When companies are in the same industry and offering the same services or products, employees are often the differentiating factor between one organization and its competitors. What makes an organization really shine is how engaged employees are, and how leadership and team members treat customers. Recently, a blog post discussing an incident at United Airlines where an unaccompanied minor was “lost” on her way to meet family members was published here. The post illustrates employees in a starkly different light than Southwest employees portray, and unfortunately provides examples of incredibly disengaged employees. Bob Sutton’s account of the airline losing his friend’s 10 year old daughter outlines how employees refused to accept responsibility, were unwilling to go out of their way to help, and expressed a “do not care” attitude. This lack of engagement increased the problem, causing anger and frustration among the child’s parents, eventually leading to negative publicity for United.
United certainly has engaged employees that work for them, just as Southwest most likely has disengaged employees. Unfortunately, United is better known for its culture of disengagement and apathy, and this is the image some consumers may consider when choosing a flight. In order to overcome this image, United should work toward building a culture of engagement. The same can be said for all industries; increasing engagement and altering your culture will help improve your reputation, and likely increase customer retention.
As for me, I will remain a devoted Southwest advocate until United’s culture changes.